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August 3, 2013 / ljbradburn-Smith

Aren’t you looking young!

young us

I’m pretty sure that I am an adult and whilst I don’t think I am old I am also not deluded enough to think that I can claim the title of ‘Young Adult’ without being laughed at. Quite a lot. However I have read a fair amount of reviews in which old adults (?) talk about Young Adult fiction that they have read and enjoyed, which got me thinking, what exactly is it about ‘Young Adult Fiction’ that we mature (ahem) adults also seem to find so relatable/interesting?

Young Adult Fiction can be anything from fantasy to romance to dystopian novels but essentially is aimed at the 12-18 year old age-group and usually features a protagonist, in this age range, who is experiencing some kind of life changing period in their lives. That’s not to say that all books that feature a teenage protagonist are aimed at this age range.

I think that for many of us our teenage years were the time of a lot of firsts – first bra/chest hair (most likely dependent on your sex but not exclusive), first drink and head in the toilet experience, first experience of heartbreak, first realisation of what really goes on in the world, first crush, first kiss, first…(well you know the rest) which equals quite a lot of overwhelming and confusing emotions. This world of drama and intense feelings makes for some pretty juicy writing subjects and characters that can really be developed and moulded over time, whatever the author’s chosen genre may be.

I think that our minds never really stop evolving and changing but being a teenager is usually the time when these changes are most prevalent and emotionally all-consuming. The natural changes that we undoubtedly all felt, during that period, creates a perfect parallel to the world changes that authors usually want to convey, in their novels, which I think is why protagonists in this age range are often the most interesting to write about. Writing about a hormone fueled teenager on a path to self discovery who also has to save the world, whilst at the same time falling in love, finding themselves and caring for a sick parent provides scope for lots of exciting, fast-paced plot-lines and character descriptions and in my experience, if written well, this appeals to all readers regardless of age. The most important thing for me personally is that an author can make me believe a character, not necessarily believe in their world, as I am pretty sure we are not yet at the point where cats rule the Universe (or are we?), or like them but believe in them as a book-person who could jump out of the pages at any minute.

I think that young adults/teens naturally love books that fall in to the Young Adult category because they are written in a way that is meant to appeal to their age range. They can relate to the characters’ age, may have had to deal with similar issues (sexuality, identity, drug abuse, self-image, confidence, friendships) and could find solace in someone writing about experiences they may have had or fear having. Adult readers on the other hand can enjoy reliving the intensity of their youth, reading about the exciting/terrifying/amazing/horrible physical and/or emotional adventures that the teenage protagonists inevitably have, and may be able to look back at their own teenage years with a new perspective and more understanding about what was going on in their lives then.

Perhaps I am overthinking this and perhaps it is as simple as the fact that we all enjoy a bloody good story no matter who it is supposed to be written for! Come to think of it the first Harry Potter book I owned had “Age 11-13” written on the spine and we all know how that turned out 🙂

What’s your favourite YA novel?



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  1. storytimewithbuffy / Aug 3 2013 4:22 pm

    As a “mature adult”, as you say, I often end up reading YA books. I don’t choose them because they’re YA, however. I choose a book based on its premise and age (mine or the protagonist’s) has no bearing on it. I like great stories in whatever genre/classification they occur. I’ve recently read a book with a 14 year old main character that I followed up with a book featuring a woman who’s 50. Coming of age stories certainly can be interesting but I would hate to limit myself to reading only those. Old people can have interesting stories too. 🙂

    • ljbradburn / Aug 5 2013 7:25 pm

      I completely agree, I usually just go for books which look interesting too and have certainly read a lot of great novels with older protagonists. One of my recent favourites was “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” 🙂 x

      • storytimewithbuffy / Aug 5 2013 7:55 pm

        I haven’t heard of that one. I’ll have to look it up.

  2. Lesley Dawson / Aug 3 2013 9:51 pm

    o.m.g. I’m panicking here because I realise that there is a black void between my Famous Five days and those of Rosemary’s Baby and The Devil Rides Out. What was I doing then if I wasn’t reading?!

    I agree that the teenage years are emotionally challenging, albeit exciting. I’m finding that our teenage daughter enjoys reading fiction about characters of her own age, or thereabouts, and who are probably going through similar experiences to her own. The thing that makes me wonder is how adults can write reliably about teenage protagonists, given that those experiences and emotions need to be drawn from a distant past. If I could remember what it felt like to be a teenager, as you say, there would be a huge store of material to write about and I applaud those adult authors who have written young adult fiction successfully.

    One of my favourite books is Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce. She writes so well from the viewpoint of the young Tom and the elderly Mrs Bartholomew and the understanding between them.

    • ljbradburn / Aug 5 2013 7:29 pm

      ooooo I will have to read that one, will put it on my to read list now 🙂 That’s a very good point, it would be interesting to read a YA novel written by a teenager and compare it to one written by someone older, perhaps there would be a lot of differences in the way they are written. I have read YA books and been frustrated by the author because I don’t think they have successfully captured the way I see teenagers or how I felt I was when I was a teen. Food for thought, thanks Lesley 🙂 x

  3. calmgrove / Aug 5 2013 4:12 pm

    Very perspicacious, especially what it means to be a teen and how adults relive the angst and excitement and intensity of those years when reading YA novels.

    For myself, when I review I rarely label them YA or Teen or Coming-of-Age as for me the main criteria are Is it well written? Do I care about the characters? Are the feelings and experiences of the characters true to life, even if the genre is SF or fantasy or whatever? Would I read it again / recommend it / keep a copy on my shelves? Am I moved or excited by reading this?

    Rarely do I have to think about whether the adult author has captured youthful anxieties in an authentic way because if I do, they haven’t.

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